Imagining Transnational Solidarities: Speaking Across Divides

Imagining Transnational Solidarities Research Circle

As part of this volume we present to you seven webinars that were organized by ITSRC and AGITATE!, in close collaboration with MIZNA and other partners between the summers of 2020 and 2021. These took place when the global pandemic both necessitated and facilitated taking-online these dialogues on modes and strategies of resistance, protests and art-making that keep us going in the midst of multiple crises.

ITSRC was initially convened as a space for scholars, artists, and activists to address the xenophobic and Islamophobic violence around us. As engaged members of the Twin Cities communities, we came together to think and learn from one another’s intellectual and artistic journeys, political analyses, and experiences in movements around the world. ITSRC envisioned facilitating collaborations that can deepen our understanding of the structural and everyday violence against refugees, immigrants, and U.S. communities of color, and recognize our complicities and responsibilities in it. Through ITSRC we want to undertake the work of imagining alternate and just futures for all peoples through transnational dialogues, research collaborations, and art-making. Decentering dominant narratives, like English as the medium of knowledge production, and re/unlearning through listening to diverse voices and translating across political vocabularies is at the center of ITSRC’s work.

The murder of George Floyd in the heart of Minneapolis just a few miles away from where ITSRC was conceived, the protests, community organizing, and resistance that it ignited under the call: Black Lives Matter led us to organize the first series of webinars. Titled Anti-Black racism in SWANA and Diaspora series, these webinars co-organized with MIZNA, and the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) grapple with the historic erasures of Blackness, and the longstanding practices of discrimination against Black communities in the SWANA region and its diasporas. The conversations that unfold in these webinars, in Persian, Arabic and English, point to how the struggles for lives and livelihoods of Black SWANA peoples are inextricably intertwined with the the wider struggles of the region: the liberation of Palestine, the campaigns against the sanctions on Iran, and the abolition of racialized migration policies. These webinars tackle difficult yet critical questions like how to create a meaningful commitment to racial justice that grapples with the deep-rooted anti-Blackness in these movements, how to amplify the experiences and voices of black communities in decision-making processes and cultural production in the SWANA region and its diasporas across the world.

The series of two webinars titled Politically Engaged Art Amid Pandemic and Protest took place after the long lockdowns that interrupted and altered activist and artistic practice of many. Performances without audiences, exhibitions curated online, and Zoom conversations with collaborators and comrades physically separated by the pandemic unsettled the intimate, confrontational and vocal expressions that shape and inspire art and activism. Funding insecurities, the explosion in Beirut, continuing occupations and sanctions in Palestine, Kashmir, and Iran all make art and activism precarious. In these webinars our transnational collective of speakers share their visions of the alternate futurities for artistic and activist practice: imagine relational, embodied and experimental art in virtual spaces, art as healing practice, and radicalizing the practice of care and empathy both with artistic and activist communities. Building upon the energies of agitations, uprisings and resistance movements in Beirut, Delhi, Palestine, and Minneapolis, these conversations speak to myriad issues like liberating artistic practices from oppressive structures, refusing the impetus to self-exotification as artists of color, challenging the expectations of what the diasporic art should look like, stepping out of institutional art worlds and challenging hierarchies within artistic communities, as well as creating art outside capitalist funding structures. Speakers, many of whom are located in the Twin-Cities area, consider these questions in relation to the ongoing labor of negotiating locations of privilege and racialization as diasporic artists, made more urgent by the groundswell that followed Floyd’s murder.

The webinar From Black lives matter in the U.S. to Palestine, Kashmir, India, Iran and the Balkans: Protest Strategies emerged from the urgent need to envision solidarities among movements and decolonize political imaginations amidst the intersecting crises of anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, ongoing occupations, settler colonialism, and anti-migrant violence. This conversation between activists centers around the contingencies between anti-imperial, anti-police, anti-militarization and anti-capitalist struggles. It reveals both the importance of paying attention to the local articulations of liberation and solidarity in these diverse movements but also the urgent need to build political alliances that defy the isolation imposed by sanctions, border regimes, and communication blackouts. In this powerful sharing of stories from across the world, of persisting in the face of oppression, the importance of building political solidarities “both as a strategy and as an indispensable value in collective liberation,” becomes evident. Speakers called for urgent and careful weaving of solidarity work, locally and transnationally, between workers, migrants, feminists, LGBT, farmers, occupied and particular forging of Black-Palestinian solidarity while paying attention to relational and mutual support to social justice. At the same time, speakers called for critical work within social movements.

The Sowing Transnational and Translocal Solidarities symposium was created to deliberate on what makes scholarship, artistry, and teaching transformative and how we can support and learn from the resilient and creative epistemologies of Kashmiri and Palestinian resistance that refuse to be silent in the face of ongoing settler colonial occupation, violence, and apartheid. Both workshops challenged the language of Islamophobia while sharpening the ocular of occupational violence as anti-Islamic. We sought to learn from and also learn how to teach about decades of struggles in Palestine and Kashmir from the poetic and political energies of feminist and queer scholars/artists/activists who joined the symposium. The first workshop Building Anti-disciplinary knowledge from struggles: teaching Palestine highlighted the intersectionality of the struggle for justice and freedom in Palestine, how national, feminist and queer politics are deeply entangled in the resistance to Settler-colonialism, militarization, Apartheid, and Pinkwashing.

The second workshop Teaching Kashmir: Their wounds are our wounds was an attempt to understand the poetics and politics of the decades-long resistance in exile and in Kashmir. Agha Shahid Ali’s poem “By Exiles,” read and discussed by Ather Zia, shows the long and complex history of solidarity between spaces of resistance like Kashmir and Palestine, reminding us of the possibilities of ongoing and new relations of solidarity even when we are separated by distance, borders, and authoritarian regimes. Both workshops directed our intellectual and artistic tools in forging creative connections between translation and solidarities, poetry and pedagogy, social movements and epistemic justice.

Anti-Black Racism in SWANA and Diaspora (English)

Speakers: Moustafa Bayoumi, Ramla Bile, Priscillia Kounkou Hoveyda, Lara Kiswani, Nadine Naber, Ash Stephens
Facilitators: Farid Matuk and Sima Shakhsari
Statement reader: Lana Barkawi
Technical support: Jordan Thompson

Anti-Black Racism in SWANA and Diaspora (Farsi)

Speakers: Alex Eskandarkhah, Parisa Vaziri, Priscillia Kounkou-Hoveyda, Dr. Assal Rad [bios]
Facilitators: M. Shadee Malaklou and Sima Shakhsari
Technical support: Jordan Thompson

Anti-Black Racism in SWANA and Diaspora (Arabic)

Speakers: Marcelle Bedran, Anis Chouchene, Fadlabi, Afifa Ltifi, Sara Musaifer [bios]
Facilitators: Rasha Ahmed Sharif, Maha Nassar
Technical support: Jordan Thompson

Politically Engaged Art Amid Pandemic and Protest – Part I

Speakers: Leila Awadallah, Fadlabi, Ritika Ganguli, Pooja Goswami Pavan, Aida Shahghasemi
Facilitators: Richa Nagar and Sara Musaifer
Statement reader: Sima Shakhsari
Technical support: Nailah Tamah, Jordan Thompson and Emina Bužinkić

Politically Engaged Art Amid Pandemic and Protest – Part II

Speakers: Lamia Abukhadra, Katayoun Amjadi, Pedram Baldari, Chitra Vairavan, Pramila Vasudevan
Facilitators: Sima Shakhsari and Nithya Rajan
Statement reader: Emina Bužinkić
Technical support: Nailah Taman, Jordan Thompson and Emina Bužinkić

From Black lives matter in the U.S. to Palestine, Kashmir, India, Iran and the Balkans: Protest Strategies

Speakers: Selma Banich, Noura Erakat, Amoke Kubat, Meera Sanghamitra, Sussan Tahmasebi, Jae Yates, Ather Zia
Facilitators: Lana Barkawi and Emina Bužinkić
Statement reader: Samira Musleh
Technical support: Sara Musaifer, Nithya Rajan and Jordan Thompson

Sowing Transnational and Translocal Solidarities

Speakers: Ponni Arasu, Yamila Hussein, Ghadir Shafie, Ather Zia
Facilitators: Emina Bužinkić, Sara Musaifer and Nithya Rajan
Technical support: Jordan Thompson

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